Evers, Republicans face early tests over taxes, insurance
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Assembly Republicans plan to unveil an initiative Thursday that they say would help middle-class families, as they and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers squabble over a bill designed to protect people with pre-existing health conditions.
The two issues are early tests for Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature as they jockey for position and attempt to get the upper hand early in the governor's first term. State government is under divided control for the first time in more than a decade.
Evers campaigned on cutting income taxes by 10 percent for the middle class. But he wants to pay for it by nearly eliminating a corporate tax break program that Republicans support. Republicans told Evers last week that they also support cutting income taxes, but they oppose paying for it by reducing the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit program as he wants.
Meanwhile, Republicans are moving ahead quickly with a bill that would guarantee health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The Assembly Health Committee planned to vote on advancing the measure Thursday, two days after a public hearing, which would set up a vote on passage as soon as next week.
Evers earlier this week signaled his opposition to the measure, saying he will only sign a bill that would guarantee protections as well or better than the Affordable Care Act already does. The Republican proposal's protections would be narrower than the existing federal ones.
Supporters of the GOP proposal argue that there's no reason to oppose putting in place state protections, which would only take effect if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. But opponents say it wouldn't work as planned unless other elements of the federal law, including those designed to keep down costs, are also in place.
"The bill is just window dressing and no substitute for the ACA," said Bobby Peterson, an attorney at ABC for Health, a group that advocates for poor people.
While the battle over those two issues continues, Evers and Republican leaders can't even agree on a time to meet to talk about it.
Evers tweeted Wednesday that he had invited Republican leaders to meet to discuss the issue. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald responded with a letter they made public saying they couldn't meet with Evers on Friday as he proposed, but they could on Thursday afternoon.
Evers' spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said Thursday that the governor wants to meet with them and "we're going to find a time that works for the governor."
Both Evers and Republican leaders have said they want to find common ground and Evers met privately with GOP lawmakers on Tuesday, but the public negotiating for something as seemingly routine as a meeting time is highly unusual and suggests they have yet to establish a working relationship.
It follows eight years with a Republican governor, Scott Walker, who worked closely with GOP lawmakers to enact his agenda and met regularly with them to discuss priorities and strategy.